Foodborne illness is a preventable public health challenge that continues to cause an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States, and millions more around the world. Over the years, it only figures that foodborne illness has killed the rich and famous, and there were many of those who weren’t ancient popes or kings.

Take for example Sebastián Ferrat, a rising Mexican actor on stage and television. In October 2019 Ferrat was found positive for an illness called Cysticercosis from eating contaminated food with tapeworm eggs which are usually found in the feces of tapeworm carriers. Ferrat died two months later on Dec. 29, 2019, as a result of the Cysticercosis.

Zachary Taylor, the 12th president of the United States, died in 1850 after walking along the Potomac River back to the White House from July 4th celebrations. He was hot and bothered by the walk and proceeded to drink glasses of cold water and milk while eating cherries. He developed stomach pains and took to bed and died five days later on July 9. An intestinal infection was blamed but poison cherries were also suspected.

Marty Feldman, the English comedy actor, who remains famous for playing Igor in Young Frankenstein, died in 1982 in Mexico City from a massive heart attack that his friends say was brought on by eating shellfish.

Lampreys, an ancient variety of fish were one of King Henry I’s favorite dishes. He was England’s King from 1068 to 1135 but died from dining on a plate of his favorite fish.

Denis Diderot, an 18th Century French philosopher liked his dining. In 1784 while with his wife, he reportedly reached for an apricot to end a meal. She scolded him for eating too much. “But what the devil do you think that it will do to me,” he replied. Moments after consuming the apricot, he dropped dead.

Rome’s Senator Lucius Fabius Cilo was said to have died from drinking a cup of milk that contained a single hair.

Alemayehu Atomsa was an Ethiopian politician who served as the president of the Oromia Region, the largest of the country’s regions, from 2010 until his resignation due to food borne illness in 2014, from which he died in Bangkok on March 6, 2014.

Rodney David Donald was a New Zealand politician who co-led the New Zealand Green Party. Shortly after midnight on Nov. 6, 2005, the day before his scheduled swearing-in for his fourth term in Parliament, he died suddenly at his Christchurch home after suffering for a few days from Campylobacter jejuni food poisoning from an unknown source. 

An autopsy initially ruled out a heart attack, but subsequent test results determined that death resulted from an inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), which is a very rare consequence of C. jejuni infection. He was 48 years old. 

Thomas Alexander Sperry (July 6, 1864 – September 2, 1913) was the co-founder and the “S” of S&H Green Stamps, together with Shelley Byron Hutchinson of Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Sperry died in New York City at the age of 49 years on September 2, 1913, of ptomaine poisoning contracted during the return voyage after a two-month trip to Europe. Sperry was brought ashore in a stretcher and his condition was too bad to travel to his home in Cranford.

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